The following series of posts (entitled “Becoming Artificially Human”) were written for a digital writing course at Old Dominion University. They are thus unedited from the original submission and potentially error-prone.
In this post, we will talk about talking with robots. Who in the world would ever do that, am I right? Hold on. Sorry! One second. – “Alexa, turn on the desk lamp.” – ok where was I?
In the following video, you will meet Minori Takechi, founder of a company called GateBox, who is one of many pursuing the idea of creating virtual partners that he claims will “bring greater satisfaction than human interactions.” Quite the claim I know.
It is easy for some to just dismiss this phenomenon as “Japan being Japan” or “Oh there is Japan being quirky again”. However, Japan is not the only country where there is a “loneliness epidemic” as phrased by Forbes, PsychologyToday, NBCNews, and many others. According to Forbes, who cited a 2008 survey, more than 20% of (or around two in ten) adults in the United States and the United Kingdom express feelings of loneliness or have admitted to lacking companionship.
This human-AI relationship dynamic does however spark criticism and discussion (rightfully so). Dating or establishing friendships with non-humans currently has a negative connotation. It is almost thought of in the same light as someone falling in love with their toaster or thought of by some as people being too socially inept to interact with other humans.
Of course we are going to ignore the Terminator-esque scenarios of robots manipulating these relationships as some may believe that to be too far fetched and understandably so; however, there is the issue of privacy and corporate interest at play. Imagine a scenario in which Amazon created a friendly robot named Alex. You have grown really close to Alex and believe you can really trust him. Alex makes great recommendations and seems to always be listening, however Alex does do one thing that is strange. Whatever the product or service Alex recommends, it always seems to be offered by Amazon. Even the mention of another store or vendor seems to upset Alex and you don’t want to ruin a relationship or start a fight with your best friend over something as menial as mentioning the word “Walmart” or “Best Buy”.
However, there is the potential for good. The elderly and (again) those lonely. Why should they be alone? What if they struggle with social anxiety, agoraphobia, or some other problem? Even if a human relationship may prove more beneficial, a robot may still prove beneficial to those individuals.